Seaside Heighs has become for bunny_hugger and I one of those special, transcendant places. It was the site of our first real date, one of those rare perfect days. We've returned to it almost every time that she's visited New Jersey. We've seen it in its peak summer, its late summer, and its winter forms, including nestled up for frigid days. Sunday, New Year's Day, was not frigid; it was pleasantly warm for the season. And bunny_hugger had a decent reason to visit, as well: she hoped to get a carousel calendar from one of the souvenir shops there. This would make a perfectly natural reason for us to go there, to what seemed the obviously right place for me to ask her. (It meant also I could not give her that calendar as a Christmas gift, however much it would fit.)
We started out a little closer to the Funtown pier, away from the antique carousel, but nearer to the antique pinball and video games. We got to playing them, in fact, for a while --- making Pinbot my first pinball of the new year, and the last of my pre-engaged life, for those keeping track of these things; and re-establishing that I have no skill whatsoever in playing Donkey Kong and only modest skill in Q-Bert. We also got to the Berkeley Sweet Shop and bought pounds of salt water taffy which came in well above a pound each since of course we do. We walked around the Funtown pier where we saw the claim of two new thrill rides coming for 2011 and somehow I figured that was for this upcoming season. We looked around the heavily discounted jewelry at one of the shops. And we waited long enough at the modern carousel to be convinced that there wasn't anybody particularly monitoring it, so we wouldn't be able to ride it after all.
We got to the souvenir shop, and walked around and around it. bunny_hugger found her carousel calendar easily (well, it's not like they're particularly hidden). I realized that of the CDs of carousel band organ music they had, I had no idea which ones I already had and couldn't buy one without an unreasonably high chance of buying a duplicate. For a person with a four-CD musical collection that would be a touch embarrassing. I'm not literally that bad. And bunny_hugger was even surprised to see I had a Kinks album she'd not heard of, but it was just a best-of collection I'd got in Singapore, explaining why she didn't know the name. We walked over and looked at the closed pieces of Casino Pier, too, and oddities like how the log flume cars were put partway up the lift hill, when that seems like it'd just be a way for them to fall down in case of incident.
We went to the Floyd L Moreland Carousel, the historic ride which marked the climax of that perfect night, and to which we've returned each visit. We discovered that we'd need $4.50 for the ride tickets and we didn't actually have anything smaller than a twenty on us. Again, it wasn't quite that bad, but we were short and we had to do some digging around to find enough singles and loose change to buy rides for us. We passed on the pair of mounts we'd first ridden --- the ones with, coincidentally, our middle names --- and took ones that as far as I remember we haven't before ridden.
This, this was the place and the time that I'd thought best to ask her.
Although there was the point of figuring just where to ask. Right there outside the exit gate? In the plastic booth of the closed pizza stand? Most important, what to do to keep her from wandering away to the arcade or any other attraction? I hugged her, tight, and long. She felt my heart racing. I felt it too. I expected the beating of my heart to let her know what was to come.
I asked her to sit down, and guided us to one of the benches facing the carousel.
And then I stood up again, coughing --- the irritating tail end of the cold that bothered me so, the part that just won't accept that it's over --- and trying to find a graceful way to take something from my pocket. There wasn't much hope of that, but I did take out a napkin and walk it over to the trash to throw out at the same time I took a small box out, and fretted that I'd throw the wrong thing away.
The box was not an engagement ring. While I'd wanted one, I hadn't had the chance to get one, and I had decided I didn't want to wait for that. It was a pocket watch which she had given me, and had engraved, and painted. It's beautiful. I talked about the feelings she expressed when she gave it to me, and that I knew now I wanted to marry her, and hoped that she would, please.
And she said yes.
And as we held each other, and kissed, and were all but lost in the joy of the moment, the carousel's music system began to play ``Auld Lang Syne''.
It played other things, too, but don't ask me which.
We talked, there, after this, about our feelings and about my foolishness in not asking sooner, and about details of the wedding we want and the practical details of living together. And she asked if she could tell everyone, joking about Twitter when she realized that this was a good way to spread the word, and certainly that was the thing to do. With the broadest smile I could manage I watched as she tapped out the first announcement on her cell phone. I hadn't brought my iPad, so I'd just have to let people answer her first.
(Our first congratulations came from a mutual friend, someone we know from Usenet, and also someone whose interests duplicate mine in so many ways he thinks of me as a slight alternate-timeline variation on himself. I have the same thoughts about him.)
We could easily have stayed there all night, I imagine, but then they turned the carousel off, and started turning off arcade lights. We joke about our ability to close out places, but that probably just reflects how we so enjoy the moment we're in that we stay in it as long as possible. (This may also reflect why we're both still loyal to Usenet and text mucks.)
As we walked back to the car, I thought there was a flash of something over the far west horizon. Lightning? On New Year's Day? bunny_hugger couldn't believe it either, not when it wasn't snowing. But a few blocks later and what do you know but sprinkles of water and a low, rolling, growing thunder came through. And more flashes of light. It was thunderstorming, however lightly, in the middle of winter. ``I hope we didn't break the universe,'' was what I had to say about that.
We were hungry, and there was a logical place to eat, after that transcendent moment, even as the thunderstorm gave up on rolling through. That'd be the diner where we first ate, to which we return, the place we happened upon by accident and which proudly blazed the same name as bunny_hugger's street, one of those wonderful serendipitous connections between her home and mine. We pulled up to something shocking.
They had a new name.
They still had the old name on the building, but a new sign was up, and there were new menus --- mostly the same items, including the French onion soup which was bunny_hugger's first meal --- but ... well, this was shocking. Alarming. How long would the old name linger before this icon of our courting was unrecognizably changed?
bunny_hugger, in her wisdom, pointed out that were we characters in a short story, the name of the restaurant where we first ate changing just as we were engaged was the sort of change that would be identified as symbolism, letting our physical landscape change as our emotional landscape did. As we'd been talking earlier about Jorge Luis Borges's Ficciones --- she'd been reading it --- and stories about fiction within fiction and such --- the idea of the fictional narrative of us was fresh in mind. And its new name, Athena's, evoking as it does the goddess of philosophy and mathematics, is surely no less relevant to us both. It's simply changed.
After dinner we went back home. I went to my father, who was watching something on the living room, and stood by so I could get his attention. He took the cue and turned the TV off and retreated to the bedroom. I tried again, walking to my parents' bedroom door. They asked what we'd done. And I said, well, we'd gone to the boardwalk, played some games, visited the carousel shop, I asked her to marry me, and she said yes.
My mother leapt out of bed to hug and to kiss us. My father got out of bed to hug us.
And they encouraged us to call people, bunny_hugger her parents --- she'd already texted her brother --- and me my aunts and siblings. And so it was that we got into a moderately muddled confusion as I tried to get my aunt in Rhode Island on my mother's phone, since I didn't have her number, and got sent right to voice mail; by the time I gave up on that and tried calling someone else, she was phoning the house phone and I picked that up. Since she'd got a missed call from my mother's phone she wanted to talk to my mother, and I suggested that maybe she'd want to hear something I had to say first.
My father had said I should put it in these three words, but I fumbled and said, ``My mother said to put it this way: start the diet.''
She squealed, delighted. My mother heard her over the phone and in the next room.
So for the next hour or so there was abundant confusion in the house as my mother talked on the land line with that one aunt, and I phoned the other available aunt --- who also squealed with delight, and who brought a smile to bunny_hugger's face in being so audible from so far away --- to report the news, and also to call my siblings and spread the word around. My elder niece was thrilled to hear her silly uncle was marrying, but we weren't sure she was perfectly clear on just what marriage meant. I couldn't get my other brother and his girlfriend, so, we just text-messaged them instead.
After a couple hours things settled down, relatively calm again, except that we kept looking at and smiling at each other even more than usual.
Trivia: In 1580 the commission appointed by Pope Gregory XIII, which set the modern calendar's rules, also wrote the clause attempting to standardize New Year's Day as the 1st of January, the date used by Julius Caesar. Source: The Calendar: The 5000-Year Struggle to Align The Clock And The Heavens --- And What Happened To The Missing Ten Days, David Ewing Duncan. However, the more I learn of calendars, the more sure I am that no attempt to standardize New Year's Day ever will achieve lasting success.
Currently Reading: Orbit, Thomas H Block. It may be a bad book (it is) but I can at least get the man's name right.